PREVIEW: 'Tough' Top 14 start with World Cup scheduling clash
TOP 14, WEEK ONE: New Zealand loose forward Victor Vito said it will be tough to begin the new French Top 14 season without four of his La Rochelle teammates who will be away on Rugby World Cup duty.
This year’s top-flight competition will play eight rounds before the World Cup in Japan ends on November 2.
England’s Premiership as well as the Pro14 league have decided to delay the start of their campaigns unlike France’s two professional competitions, the Top 14 and the ProD2.
Voici la photo officielle du TOP 14 pour la saison 2019/2020 ! 🏉
Bonne reprise à tous.
📸©️ Aldo Paredes pic.twitter.com/BNQy0lbkHB
— TOP 14 Rugby (@top14rugby) August 20, 2019
Vito’s club teammates in Fiji’s Kini Murimurivalu and Levani Botia as well as France forwards Gregory Alldritt and Dany Priso are among more than 100 players from France’s two professional leagues who will feature at the World Cup.
“It’s going to be tough but I feel all the teams are in the same boat but we haven’t been affected too much,” 32-year-old Vito, a two-time World Cup winner, told AFP.
“We have Kini, Levani with the Fijians, we have Greg and Dany with the French boys. They are great players.
“We have the depth at the moment. I think by the time they’re available again we’ll be looking forward to them joining us again.”
Morgan Parra, whose Clermont side host Vito’s La Rochelle in their opening game of the campaign on Sunday, complained about the scheduling.
Last year’s losing finalists could be without as many as 10 squad members for the opening two months of the season.
“It’s annoying to begin the championship with guys away and not to have the squad together at the start of the championship. It’s not good,” the scrumhalf said.
“Now we have to deal with it, the club knows too. The club has had to sign some players as cover, they knew we’d be without some players during the World Cup. But, for me, it’s not normal,” he added.
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— Ligue Nationale de Rugby (@LNRofficiel) August 21, 2019
Champions Toulouse travel to Bordeaux-Begles on Saturday as they begin the defence of their record 20th title.
Head coach Ugo Mola said he would be missing some of his key players for a majority of the 26-game domestic season if weeks away during the Six Nations are also considered.
“A shorter pre-season and a squad weakened by the World Cup, it provides us with some worries. We’re going to play between 13 and 15 matches without our internationals,” he said.
Elsewhere this weekend, promoted Bayonne head to Racing 92 and Brive, European champions in 1997, face Pau.
There is a re-run of the 2016 final with Castres welcoming Montpellier, who will be without former South Africa hooker Bismarck du Plessis due to a knee injury.
Agen host Toulon and last year’s semi-finalists Lyon play billionaire-backed Stade Francais in the rest of the fixtures.
Top 14 Round One Fixtures:
Racing 92 v Bayonne
Castres v Montpellier
Agen v Toulon
Lyon v Stade Francais
Pau v Brive
Bordeaux-Begles v Toulouse
Clermont v La Rochelle